received is going to help a lot. it will cut -- it will help me in the next year or two to live because it's hard to read when you're trying to figure out how to pay the vet will or the mortgage. >> dogs are very expensive, yes. so anyway, that's all i have to say about that. >> i would have to say that i believe that narrative nonfiction is art and not thinking as an artist about her work, the work has to be done by whatever means necessary. and for me it took 15 years in order to do it. i did not know is going to take 15 years at the outset. i'm glad i did not take 15 years because i would not done it. i do not regret giving it the 15
converted to islam. >> welcome to the 27th annual "chicago tribune" printers row that size. a special thank you tour sponsors. before we begin today's program, please turn off your cell phone and all other electric devices. photographs are not permitted. today's program will be recorded for future broadcast on c-span's booktv. if there is tenet began for a q&a session with the author, we ask you to use the microphone located at the center of the room said the home viewing audience can hear a question.
the schedule of when the program will air, go to www.booktv.org. please welcome moderator, it karen long and deborah baker, author of "the convert." [applause] >> good morning. it's wonderful to be here and thank you for joining us. i drove here from cleveland and i was delighted to be occupied with a complex object and engaging biographer. deborah baker seems allergic to the facile answer and drawn to flags that are complicated and eliciting more questions than answers. so if that is your cup of tea, you walked into the great room.
because margaret marcus, who became mary and jamaal is so complicated, i thought the respect one interesting thing to do would to begin with some of her words. so, we are going to ask deborah baker to read for us. >> hi, thank you for coming. it's great to be in chicago. i love this city so much, especially in such a beautiful day. just a brief thing before i read from this -- this is a letter that very in geneva wrote to her parents on board the ship, a deep crater that was taking her from brooklyn, new york to karachi, pakistan and then she would move to the horror -- lahore, this is the first of the letters i found at the new york public library, which was my
introduction to margaret marcus. may 1962, the hellenic torch. this is posted from alexandria egypt. after all of our goodbyes, after you mother betty and walter walked down the plank and drove off, i was overcome by profound sense of dread. i stood to attack rail for a long time completely stricken. the excitement of the weeks leading up to my departure gone. when the ship pulled away from the brooklyn pier condo late to the city city began to dance in the engine seemed to echo the pounding of my heart, a black and fathomless ocean slowly swallowing everything i own. it takes some time and many prayers before my fear began to subside. so she goes on to tell her parents about the various odd years on board.
there is a captain and his great crew who are very suspicious of this journey that she was making to pakistan. mother come you imagine i was going to need men i still dressed for dining and dancing on board as if my passage has been booked on a cruise ship instead of a cheap greek crater. i was happy to leave the address behind the i.d., her sister to along with my girdling corset and a high heels i gave to the colored lady who lived in the room across from mine at my digester women's residence. dress now in the hands of ankle-length skirt and high neck longsleeved blouse, i certainly see that i cut an unlikely figure. anyone might well ask, why would an otherwise attractive western women insist on dressing in such a manner. honestly, i don't blame him. the captain tells me he just returned from turkey despite mustapha sadr's best efforts persecute muslims by the hives and the arabic script commencing
the captain found out it of religious addicts. i asked him what he meant by religious fanatic. muslims who refuse to report for philip alien for me. muslims to avoid non-muslims like the plague. you'd be perfectly happy to see the muslim religion eradicated because every most westerners that was nation is superior. bought a symbol and not caerphilly westernized and home to many european was backward and reactionary as ever. a young greek sailor chimed in. you'll see yourself the filth and poverty when you get there. >> and there you have it. you have a 27-year-old woman who grew up on long island, throwing it all to get on the ship and join the fosterfather she's never met in her pursuit of holiness, and her longing for community. and yesterday, urea was speaking
about his down ancestor who was a healer and night in century mexico. he spoke of the catastrophe of holiness and not phrase current in iran because the difficulty of someone who moves against what they've been given and their religious boot. can you talk to us a little, deborah, about what grabs you and the letters with this voice on this profoundly unorthodox quest? >> you know, you've heard a little bit of her voice. i just was so struck by the sharpness and clarity in this sort of enthusiasm monday. it was like, you know, reading some person who is like going to europe for the first time in everything snail and she wants to write on absolutely everything she sees them convey the excitement of this journey
to her parents. in the back of my mind, even though i'm reading these letters with great excitement, this was like in the spring of 2007 when i first sort of stumbled upon them completely by chance. i thought, this is not going to end well. he just has the you have no idea in the wild blue yonder to roost. just should meet, go see for yourself that serves in the back my mind, but i can't tear myself away from these letters. that's how i began the book in this discovery and the sense of what is going to happen next. >> so we have a sore knee detect that question and this woman and one of the things i was thinking about as i read was an observation martin marty made.
he's a lutheran theologian i admire that one can't have a conversation with anyone unless one knows the places from which they view the world. and as a journalist, i thought they'd go, you know, what if i am enjoying as an interviewer is partly the hallmark of trying to figure out the vantage points one brings to their views of the world. can you talk, deborah, a little bit about the foundation vantage points as mary ann and also your own? >> shourie she grew up in larchmont whereon ironic, new york and a sort of bedroom community of new york city. her parents were secular jews but they celebrated christmas and easter pictures of christmas music, but classical music,
easter baskets, the whole thing. she didn't quite understand she was a sad night until she was in kindergarten and got the playground taunts from catholic school children. they threw rocks, called a christ killer, and the usual and anti-semitism. what is this gsm and her parents ended up getting her to tempo and she was fascinated by the stories, the stories of her ancestors living in biblical lands and that made them seem so much more exciting than the jews she was growing up around. she wished on why the orthodox jews because she lived in a non-christian household. she was sort of surrounded by divisions. but in bible school, she was sort of looking at the jews and arabs living side-by-side harmoniously and it just seemed
very simple, does there come a tribal very sort of excited her imagination and she was born in 1934, so she came of age during the second world war. she hit adolescence, you know, right at that moment when everyone was learning about what it happened in eastern europe to the jews. and she was the kind of child, very child to read the pap religiously every day. and there was the sense that something was going on, but no one really quite believed it. and then when the photograph started being published in the first appearance tried to hide it because she was a child caerphilly question, why that? and her parents just didn't know how to answer these questions. so she was completely traumatized by that. and you know, the jews world
asendin going to start this state of israel, she was very excited come initially very excited. she got the jews -- we connect with our roots them are going to learn how to be real jews again. that was the word she used. and the arabs are going to protect us from the horrible christians. and not lies -- when she thought that was not how the state of israel was unfolding, that was sort of the beginning of her move, you know, to radicalization, and sympathy she moved towards the arabs, she'd always sort of been fascinated by air or poetry, music and at least in the age of 10 onwards. she got drawn further and further in her parents had saved the arabs are killing the jews. they are dirty, low people and she was sort of want to believe
that and she would destroy. she liked japan. she would destroy her drawings, but then wanted to prove to her parents they were prejudiced. she knew it was that to be prejudice against black people, so she felt like she wanted to argue her parents that the arabs are great people. and so, there is this tension in the household at the center of her life, the center of the adolescence. but that is sort of her plan where, where she was coming out of. as far as my framework, which i'm generally not very interested in because i'm a biographer and biographer tends to say hang the curtain, pay no attention to the person behind the curtain. but my framework was -- i discovered these letters. i'd written mostly mostly about obscure americans poets before that. i've never written about an islamic ideologue, which is what she eventually became.
and you know, i was completely obsessed with time and really no one seemed to understand the nature of night session. i had to keep wondering, what is that? why is it these letters are speaking so much to me? she later became the voice of his lungs became the argument with the west. she was dear influential in the good name in the islamic with her adopted father. so i felt like these issues, you know, i was writing and researching this book in the midst of the war on terror and also in new york city, where -- you know, witnessed the 9/11 attacks in 2001. so i was sort of torn -- dhf object to did he really never it because i'm the one hand i've been traumatized deeply and
personally affected by the 9/11 attacks. then the other hand, i see in this country that i loved, you know, become the third of, you know, betrays no secret ballot in pursuit of the war against, you know, muslim people that really had nothing to do with the attacks. so the deeper i got into marion gmail slave and the story, the more it became apparent there were these elephants in the room i could just pretend what they are. so that's a long answer to your question. >> it's a great answer. and it seems that pose for you and for margaret arcus, the book is an indispensable key to the formation of one's view of the world and the sense that for a little margaret peggy, the road to mecca was by a jew who
conferred at a foundational document for her. can you type just briefly about her autodidact disses them on that particular book? >> yeah, this is a book called the road to mecca, which commotions and the road to mecca for a lot of people who friday. it's a memoir by this austrian jew who is a journalist who went to cover north africa and the middle east and became very friendly. traveled a lot and it does say that a trusty bible and god. and you know, just at this very passionate, wonderful book about arabia and became very good friends with king soured and later on married a bad when women from india to pakistan and then came back to america. marion -- her parents refused to let her take this back home because it was she would just go to the library after school
every day a dozen times. and i littermate mohammed sidon who teaches in new york city and says he gets so many letters from people looking to him for guidance because they read his father spoke. the egyptian singer she would later record with all the windows of her parents apartment open so she could watch people in the suburban lawn below. so she had this kind of uncanny fascination and obsession with arab culture, you know, middle eastern culture. >> so, deborah paints a picture of this child who is swimming against the tide, a life with ideas and business that to the place and time she finds herself
to such a painful degree that she herself described a friend mice, isolated environments and her parents home. she's thrown out at two colleges. we're not quite sure why. she is stuck and unhappy. and through the letters andrew tepper's writing, we readers become anxious to know what will become of this woman and child who's launched herself in such an unorthodox direction on this freighter. and one of the great through lines of the converts are the factors. but one of the confounding cards is debray treats us as grown-ups and lets us experience her difficulty in trying to discern this woman that these letters
aren't straight stenography, that debra herself has made the more concise than those with a few anecdotes around. so then, there is a hole blown into the boat, but at least he be made of this document that isn't quite what we would as soon as we began. i'd like you to try to tell us why you made the choice to reconstitute the letters. >> first of all come the book is divided in three parts. the first is the marvel library, the library way from the new york public library and that really tells the story of the first 24 letters, which were her first 18 months in pakistan, you know, which begin on the greek ship and sort of ended with this letter that all of a sudden is being written from an insane
asylum in lahore. when i got to that letter, i thought my god, i've been not thinking twice, just going down the garden path with kerry not thinking now about whether or not what she's writing the letter is unreliable or not. so when i got to that letter, i thought okay. the next letter said now i guess they really have to tell you what really happened to me when i got to pakistan. this is again letters to her parents. so i thought, and going to start its beginning until the story and over again. that's not really where the story starts, you know, what happened when she really got to pakistan and i don't know the terms and so that's when i go back to her childhood in the whole second part of the book is her childhood. in the third part picks up with the first part and her being in this insane asylum and tell them
what really happened. and the third party also when i do say that all the answers to obvious questions i've been the reader and asking myself in the course of this narrative cannot be answered by me just digging deeper and deeper into the library. but i have to go to pakistan. and one element of the story that i haven't really discussed so much as they demand that invited mary ann to margaret barker is to come up with him and his family in pakistan. and this man is like, what condi was to india, this man was to pakistan. but this is another question at the heart of the book. why did this incredibly powerful islamic political leader invited to jewish girl that he had been corresponding with for a year to live with them as his daughter. i mean, here he had nine children, but is inviting yet another woman to his house in pakistan. so it's one thing to sort of go back and forth as to who marion
gmail it is, but then you need the historical context. where was pakistan at that time? influence among us, this book is also a book about america and pakistan, america and islam. so you know, i don't want to sort of loose sight of those aspects of the book and the fine-grained because marionette symbolizes a vehicle for a lot of these meditations. but as to the question of what i decided to do with her letters, i felt it was important to have million of the vehicle for the reader to experience her letters with immediacy, and around words rather than me paraphrasing them or, you know, saying welcome and marion says she graduated from
high school in 1953, but actually was 1952. i mean, i find that correct been that the biographer is a distancing and that want the readers to feel about her the way i felt about her when i first started reading these letters, to be completely into her world. and you know, if i have that at the outset that, you know, that she was institutionalized, people just say she's crazy and not have to wrestle with the kinds of questions that are book strays and her letters they. and because her letters for so long, like 10 single space type pages, you know, with no typos have anything and matter and a grammatical sentence. they just had to clean his sentences you can conceive as. you know, i wanted to capture her voice, but i didn't want the reader to have to read 10 single
site pages can i say compress them a lot. and i sort of condensed time and took the essence of them, but i didn't make anything out. you know, a biographer camino, conventionally they paraphrase. they put in their own words and try to capture the voice says the writer, but you're not supposed to. you're supposed to neutralize it. but i really wanted to keep punching a suburb voice, so i decided to do that and people get to the end of the book and if you like okay, that was an okay thing to do. other people might think of as being misleading, but i did want that sort of narrative propulsion at the outset. >> and did you hit upon the solution after marion gave you explicit permission to do this? >> now, i wrote a whole book before i asked her permission. luckily she said yes.
and that is another revelation as when i started the book when i started writing it and thinking about how it going to unfold, that i could just in the library and write it. it never occurred to me she might still be alive. so i also withhold that information from the leader. it wasn't until i got to this part of the archive, which she had been a painter and all of a sudden there was this box of painting from pakistan that she is sent because she wasn't posted a painting. painting is considered forbidden in islam or at least enough variety of islam. and she's so secretly with sunday's paintings back to the new york public library. and the last been seen in the last box of her portfolio was dated september 11, 2001. so i thought, if she was alive on september 11th, maybe she's alive in 2007. so i wrote to her. and she wrote back.
and so that's what i realized they had to go to pakistan. >> and in a nutrient is a biographer with a living subject, one cannot read the convert without thinking about the biographer's art. there is a beautiful passage in here that i wanted to share with you about that question. and this is in deborah's voice. anonymity is my vocation. i inhabit the last of my subjects until he can click on. behind the doors in a study, i wear them like a suit about today's close, telling their story, interpreting dreams, mimicking their voices as they type. i find that those most susceptible to those tuned to an impossible pitch, poets and wild eyed visionaries who live their lives close to the bone, hunting
archives, leading letters composed in agony and journals pick with unspeakable thoughts. i found the internet as chambers of unquiet souls, under its dramas no one would ever think to make a. i think that's gorgeous and i gossett inc. that grave. and have you an insight as to why he your body of work calls each of these kinds of voices? >> well, it's kind of a vicarious existence. people read excessively about celebrities and poets in this state of various stripes. and i do feel that way, you know, they getting close to them and they are sort of trying to vibrate close to god, the god is my way of trying to see what it feels like. but of course, you know, if
you're a proper biographer, you have to sort of -- or a few lives, this is kind of a blind spot, isn't it that this person has? to become a little crammed after a while you get exasperated. you know, can't they see this and can't they see that? to become all of a sudden assertive rather censorious person and you realize that the break is happening at the relationship falling apart. you are not supposed to express those kinds of exasperation spirit you're just supposed to be very neutral and say well, you know, put it in historical context and all that stuff. and that's a very important part of being a biographer. but this book i just sort of felt like it needed something different as a way of framing the story. the mac i inc. that your crankiness at time with mary and gives the reader permission to be a bit annoyed his or herself.
and my annoyance cavemen and the sons that she is an exceptionally astute critic of western materialism. she's pricey and. she's spot on in places. there is a reason that her propaganda and templates. and creek moves people. and it isn't just attacked as his son. but what i found myself thinking about is the puzzle of her life if she got on that greater before the second wave of feminism hit the united states. i'm not powerful critique of the way religion and the way society put the lives together of half their populations, seem to be absent, in fact, in antagonism with the way miriam came to view the world in her censorious
discussed for sexuality, for women who was critical of jackie onassis touring pakistan and there is sleeveless silk -- and yes, mary ann's thoughts of being an unmarried woman, which was intolerable to her foster father cried out for some feminist critique. did you have a parallel annoyance with her? or is that my idiosyncrasies? >> about a mistake here she is, you know, in racing with huge excitement. you know, she sent this picture to her parent soon after she arrived. like you'll never recognize me as the same old lady. look at me now. these are the clothes i'll be wearing for the rest of my life. and i thought, how can you recognize anybody? why do you have your picture taken if you're not going to
show your face? that just sort of stopped me in my tracks. but thinking about it, he thought she grew up in westchester. she washed her sister, all her cousins getting married. the idea of marriage she was a little scared to hear what she was scared of boys, but she wanted those things things in a peculiar way. if only just to be like her well-adjusted sister. so she was torn, that she had no facility with boys. so in a way it was perfect. also, she wasn't beautiful like her sister. she was rather ungainly and she admitted she had absolutely no charm what the weather. and she was very aware of her clumsiness. it's a really, what your future holds for her and americana classics and so, it made sense that it would search out a more
traditional culture where it really didn't matter what you look like, we're winning, you know, have a specific role to play. on the other hand, she would go to packet and then automatically assume that because she was writing all these articles have been published in the muslim press and because she was corresponding with his egyptian prison and has signout on son-in-law and living in exile with the laudable duty, she was the voice that has to be reckoned with, she was the voice of authority even though she didn't baruch urbach, had never read the koran in the original holy language. but she still nonetheless survived with a sense of importance, which i ascribe to as a particularly american kind of disease where you can go and tell them exactly how they can be good muslims. and so, that sort of flipside of
that, which is why was even more interesting now, what did he expect from her? what did he want from her? did he want to use her as a proxy? was he going to marry her? what does his wife and? what do children think? you know, what were his intentions towards her? did he want her to translate his book? so there were all these questions about how she was -- when she arrived in pakistan come you know, she immediately started writing a column. she was interviewed. she was profiled. it was like a sensation. here's this westerner who has given up everything to come out of this sense of faith, to live with us and tell us that we are superior to the west. so there was all that going on. so that was another assertive series of questions i had to kind of answer. but as far as feminism and she was writing notes in the early
60s through the 70s to the mid-80s. her mother would send her. she draped her mother and say can you send me this book i can use it in i can ecma backed up quite she became quite interested in the women's lib movement. of course she turned around and started publishing books, denouncing women's liberation as the final -- the thing that's going to lead to the end of western civilization. also believed the more freedoms women it was destined to collapse soon after women were unleashed on the world and i'm in. for that became another whole line she could make against the west against this bill is likely type of attack.
>> of us think about what phones will be wanted for mary ann >> well that's one of the things i withhold it may put. i'm not going to say everything. but basically these ideas grew out of there trying to get rid of the british empire and he was born in 1901. for a while there is a kind of muslim hindu unity under you can't be enhanced movement. but he gradually moved away from that and he began to articulate. and he was really one of the first people to articulate this idea of an islamic state based entirely on sharia law in which we hear that about now because especially with each had and the muslim brotherhood that i mentioned was deeply influenced by his writings on the idea of
an islamic constitution, as was i a toy outcome any who translated his work from urdu into persian. so you with the voice of each authority not only in his part of the world, south asia, but also in the middle east. he was constantly going to saudi arabia. king saud was subsidizing impeach amazing teacher monday at islam a political party, which he founded in india, which was the first quote unquote political party and continues to be a force in pakistan. basically these are the parties through which the g hotties are organized and sent off to fight either in the northwest territories or in afghanistan. and there's the mother apology hattie.
he wrote the first book on global jihad. what the names of global jihad ways. and now it's also kind of interesting to me because there have been many, many books about 10 minutes writing writings and biographies and everything. but none of them mentioned margaret marcus amerian jameel. none of them talk about him as a father or it has been for a brother or son. marion's letters were all about his household and the way it was run. there seemed to be of benefit instead of looking at this man is this powerful political leader, which is how the academic scholars have written about him was to look at the politics of his household, which were much more complicated and unexpected than you would as soon, given his writings.
i mean, miriam would be upset because his wife didn't always coming in now, wasn't always an instant purdah. she would say, why didn't you wear your veil to meet her brother and not quite she said, doesn't your husband get upset at that? she said you know, my husband is such a saint. he is so much patience for me. basically she would get away with the things he was telling every popper he had to do in his own wife he couldn't actually live up to these ideas. >> the contradictions. the aspect of the book is a kind of watches us into looking at ourselves in a way.
the other passage you are speaking about reading today. >> right, so this is -- this is just again also in july 1962 when she still getting used to pakistan and the household. your exhaustive description of mother's birthday dinner at a fancy westchester restaurant was unbearable to me. i'm still unaccustomed to the pakistani diet into your rich menu of foods you are joined at the torment. when i most hungry i had visions of steak and pot roast and meatloaf and mashed potatoes finished off what they pick slice of sara lee cheesecake and ice cream. the malacca party to me that he experienced the dishes when he was being fêted at an honored guest of saudi arabia. on his yearly visit, he's expect it to relish the hot served as
an appetizer and is honored guest is presented with the and eyeballs. i expected to soon grow greece to chili's and tell them i dream of early. >> let's take a moment and see what questions they're racing for the audience. >> i am curious to know how the process of researching it and writing it and perhaps meeting her possibly change your perceptions of people who converged, who go against the tide against values held by their family or community. i don't know if you have any feelings about that before hand that may be attracted you to
this sort of subject, but i was just wondering. >> at present, you until i began thinking deeply about what is this story resonate with me. i began looking at my own life and the whole idea of conversion i've never given much thought to. eventually, but the way, margaret taryn. this sort of last duty of them and became unitarians. they did make a big fuss. they just like the community of people and their into assimilating and becoming more american. it didn't seem like a big deal for them. their tattered authority going to the unitarian church. the more i thought about it, i was raised catholic and i'd always sort of heard that my father, who has been raised episcopal has rated to
catholicism and my mother said eic converted and wanted this big church wedding in the next lane i got up were going to church. he says we went to church yesterday. [laughter] became really obsessed with catholicism, learned the church history and doctrine and then all of a sudden he was in and he wasn't so keen on it anyway. so he converted many became hugely anti-catholic or is it that time and my siblings came along, going to church was exploded thing. my father would be an affront to my mother would be just a mess and putting our hats on. but we came home from dinner, he would launch into a sermon about the evils of the catholic church and the posts and all that status. so you know, i'm the one hand i was right, you know, praying to jesus and looking at him kind of
victorian and then on the other hand i got all this stuff about the pope. so i've realized in the areas this argument. and also, you see it in our culture now, the sense of secular humanism, agnosticism, how close minded it can be. the religion is also posed in terms of fanatics are fundamentalists but that's how we read the brainwashing of children and things like that. it's never -- you know, it's really seen as a kind of positive thing for us a power for good. it's often framed as this kind of evil fanatical name, whether they are right wing -- as a result of course, my own siblings -- i have a brother who
i adore who is an evangelical christian. his wife believes in creationism and another one who is a pagan unitarian. so obviously there was a desire for something, but you know, secularism doesn't have all the answers, especially for children they think. >> could use the microphone, please. thank you. >> i haven't read you read their books. what other blind zealots and have you ever thought it do in the book that groups many of these together to see with the pairing is? >> well, people are so unpredictable, it's really hard to imagine that there would be any consistent pattern. but i find that i judge people who are good with words, you
know, i feel it that gives me access to them in a way. so they've been mostly polite -- actually three pilot today but about before i got to marry him. and know, you get insight directly into their souls to their writings and really bad is the true me to them more than specificities that religious police, which were often quite intricate evolved. >> i have a question about this person debate within pakistan. how is the initial meeting between them? he seemed so influential. with her family that influential that they combined instead you can go live with him? >> no, they had been corresponding for a year before she decided to go. and i think before she left she
decided to go to leave america when her parents arrive on holidays in the caribbean. and i think she had a sense that she had been mired been mired in the space between her adolescence and adulthood and hadn't been able to move our dinner life issue is kicked out of college. she really had no way of making a living. and he had been inviting her for over a year to come with a 10. the band and corresponding. she can ask them questions. even giving her answers. she'd been writing essays. he had been sending her assays. so it that was a real circus meeting of minds. the fact that she was a woman, the fact she was raised jew just did not seem to bother him at all. and so he had this fantasy of her and she had this fantasy of him. and you know, when she arrived
it becomes apparent that they were both deeply disappointed in each other. he was that what he imagined american into the clay. she was a blonde, didn't have blue hair, wasn't tall and slim. she looked actually not too much different from his own daughters, you know. >> thank you so much for joining us today. >> the summer question. >> it's been lovely. thank you for your patient